Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, workplace food trends were shifting. Not only were food services becoming more healthy and sustainable, but they were also becoming more contactless and convenient. We’ve now reached a point where the longer the pandemic continues to shake up the food industry, the more restaurants and retailers are realizing that they need to break tradition to stay in business. According to a Baum + Whiteman trend forecast, food service providers must follow evolving health codes and provide a “warm, happy social experience” for their consumers to make ends meet.
Technology adoption in the office plays a critical role in this equation. Partnerships like those between tenant experience platforms and best-in-class food solutions can bring unique dining experiences and food offerings directly to office tenants, while also channeling money back into the local economy through the heart of everyone’s communities: food.
This month, I sat down to chat with Steve Kelly, Head of Strategic Partnerships at Ritual. One of HqO’s exclusive Marketplace partners, Ritual connects businesses with customers to offer a simple, safe, time-saving tool for ordering food in the workplace. The company works with thousands of restaurants around the world, and serves customers in more than 50 cities across North America, Europe, and Asia Pacific. We discussed Ritual’s roots, Steve’s thoughts on the industry, and how current events will impact the future of food services (and our communities at large) as we know it.
I appreciate you taking the time to join me today. Would you mind sharing a little about your background to get us started?
Not at all! I’ve worked in internet startups for the last 10 years or so. Prior to joining Ritual, I co-founded a company in the privacy and security space, which is now part of Norton’s privacy and security offerings. In fact, some of the folks from my last job actually work with Ritual now, so it’s truly been a lot of fun. I joined Ritual in 2016, when it was still relatively young. At the time, it consisted of about 20 people, and operated across different neighborhoods in Toronto and Chicago. So I’ve really enjoyed watching us grow in the last five and a half years!
Ritual has definitely experienced massive growth! How did it become what it is today?
In early 2014, our co-founders realized that local businesses were inevitably going to move online and digitize their offerings over the next decade, in the same ways retail businesses had already done. They were looking to enable these experiences with people’s favorite businesses, particularly those in food and beverage. So, they left their jobs at Google to create Ritual, which was originally founded in Toronto. The plan always was to expand into many markets. Today, you’ll find us across most major metros like Chicago, New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston, Washington D.C., and many more.
Why are Ritual’s digital commerce experiences so important?
It’s always important to help local merchants grow their businesses. It’s also important to connect them with individuals who can end up being high-quality, regular consumers. It really starts with us providing merchants with the best capabilities to reach that audience, and to connect with that audience in meaningful ways. And, of course, providing these consumers with a really great experience in terms of food ordering and engaging with their favorite local restaurants and cafes is also a win. The goal is to support our merchant community as well as our user community.
How has the pandemic impacted the way merchants and their consumers interact with their businesses?
There’s certainly a few things there. Probably the largest among them being that the pandemic increased the need for restaurants to move the ability to order online — beyond convenience’s sake. Now that many consumers can choose to work from home (and sometimes even their own schedules), restaurants need to find new ways to easily connect with those who do come into the workplace. They can do this by making it easy for tenants to understand what restaurants are open nearby and saving precious minutes at busy points in the day. Considering ways to ease up the morning commute or lunch times can really help them reach that hybrid audience.
The other important consideration is allowing merchants to be able to sell to customers. We saw a big expansion of the types of restaurant locations that are moving their menus online for ordering. Certainly, there was a lot of growth in order ahead and pick-up technologies going into 2020, but a great number of restaurants that are more traditionally full-table service locations have expanded their off-premise offerings and their desire to reach a new audience.
Since the pandemic, we’ve been helping merchants who haven’t really focused on that before, and showing them how they can reach a larger community. Our collaboration with HqO is a great example of that, in terms of putting the ability to order from any restaurant or cafe in a hyper-convenient location within a building. We really expanded the ways that our restaurant partners could reach people beyond the core Ritual app. It’s been critical for everyone involved.
I agree, we’ve seen similar things happening in the market. The other trend we’ve noticed is helping businesses navigate ongoing health and safety concerns. Everyone is looking for contactless solutions so they don’t need to touch physical surfaces, or wait in congested areas.
Exactly. And certainly within that is exposing people to the ability to order ahead. Your items can be ready when you get there. So not only do you not have to spend more time than you should at a particular location, but you get a chance to experience a safe way to go about your day. Reaching folks that hadn’t already considered digital ordering, and using their favorite restaurants to help them see the benefits, is a great way to introduce them to what might be their preferred way of consumption going forward.
What other solutions can Ritual provide office tenants?
Community. Ritual has always been very focused on creating community in the office with respect to food and beverage. We enable office team members to order together and pick up for one another and really enjoy their lunch or coffee breaks. It’s part of the tenant experience moving forward because now there is increased flexibility in our work week. We need to be more deliberate about how we choose to spend our breaks and special occasions that connect us with our peers and colleagues. That’s why we’re excited to be a part of those experiences and to make them seamless. We want you to spend more time with your friends and coworkers, and we want to bring the food and beverage experience to the forefront to help you do that. And, at the same time, people engaging back with their merchants helps support the local community and central business districts that depend on those businesses. It’s more than just great food, it’s the bigger picture.
I couldn’t agree more! To wrap things up, what is your take on the future of the food industry?
That’s a great question. I think I’ll focus the answer on the service experience in the hospitality side of the industry. What digital tools enable us to do is really improve the overall food service experience itself. By allowing people to have custom ordering with diverse menu options, you’re allowing them to get foods you know they’ll love, save time throughout their day, and maybe even engage in more active conversations with staff or friends. They can spend less time thinking about the technical stuff, and more time just enjoying the moment.
That’s perhaps the most exciting evolution that I think about in terms of the food industry. There could be things like special menu items that are only available at certain times of day, or perks and discounts to consumers who use a certain app. The opportunities are truly endless, and they really bring the best quality forward. The future of food will be richer, because what remains is what people want: amazing restaurants and cafes that are available at your fingertips. It really brings the neighborhood to life in a wonderful, memorable, and seamless way. What more can you ask for?